Saturday, 21 December 2013

The Invincible Sun - Sol Invictus

Christmas day (aka Dies Natalis Solis Invicti*) is getting closer and so I thought I would pay tribute to Sol Invictus, the Invincible Sun, who I regard as an aspect of radiant Apollo – who is (as we all know) one of the most revered Gods within the Roman pantheon. As far as Apollo's solar aspect goes, while the veneration of the Sun (Sol) is certainly a genuinely ancient Roman practice, the cult of Sol Invictus was a latecomer to the classical world and did not achieve widespread appeal until the third century CE, when it received imperial patronage. Beard et al describe the cult of Sol Invictus in ancient Rome thus:
“In AD 274 the emperor Aurelian dedicated a great temple to the Sun (Sol) which was famed in antiquity for the richness of the offerings and dedications it contained … The cult of the Sun can have clear associations with eastern religions: the full title of the God Elagabalus was, in fact, Sol Invictus Elagabalus – Invincible Sun Elagabalus; and here it is often assumed that the particular form of the cult derived from the cult of Ba’al at Palmyra in Syria, after Aurelian’s successful campaign there … At the same time, however, its significance had Roman roots too. So, for example, a regular sacrifice to Sol is marked on 9 August of several Augustan calendars; and there had been a longstanding identification in both the Greek and Roman worlds of the God Apollo with Sol (or Greek Helios) … Besides, the imagery of the God – at least on the few contemporary coins on which it is shown – is strongly Graeco-Roman, rather than oriental (contrast the explicit eastern imagery attached to Elagabalus’ cult) and the priesthood founded to serve the cult was given the very Roman title of ‘pontifices of the Sun’ [M Beard et al, Religions of Rome: Volume 1 at 259].”
A number of Roman emperors are known to have particularly revered the Sun. The rising popularity of the cult coincided with a decline in that of the imperial cult and it is possible that some members of the third and fourth century Roman elite may have aspired for it to become a sort of “universal solar cult consecrating the religious unity of the Roman world”: R Turcan, The Gods of Ancient Rome at 142. It is also arguable that the cult of the Sun was, for some Romans at least, quasi-monotheistic  Macrobius portrays one of the leading Pagans of the fourth century, Praetextatus, as stating that "the supreme God, of whom all the others are aspects, is the Sun": cited in J Rüpke, A Companion to Roman Religion at 114.** However, the cult of the Sun was still very much a polytheistic phenomenon, as Rüpke explains in his summation of the rise of Sol Invictus in ancient Rome:
“… in the years after [Emperor] Gallienus’ death in 267, a series of strong and efficient emperors managed to stabilise the Roman empire … Foremost among them was Aurelian. Much more than his predecessors he laid emphasis on the fact that a God had invested him as emperor. After his victory over Palmyra in the summer of 273 he established the cult of Sol Invictus (Invincible Sun) in Rome. The God received his own magnificent temple, the templum Solis, and the priesthoods were restructured in order to give the priestly college of Sol a special rank … This cult had an air of monotheism, insofar as there was a central God, but it did not exclude the veneration of other Gods. It was new, but remained within the framework of traditional religious practice and could happily co-exist with the older cults  the worship of Sol was one of the key cults in the fourth century … The [polytheistic] emperor Julian (361-3 CE) ... was especially devoted to the Sun and viewed him as the supreme God … [J Rüpke, A Companion to Roman Religion at 102-114]”.
I discuss the rituals we might engage in for a solar oriented Christmas in more depth in my post A Pagan Christmas in High Summer.*** For myself, I have Christian relations staying with me and I confess that my Pagan invocations this festive season have never been so hurried or so hushed. However, they will to go to Church for a daytime service and I will engage in a ritual honouring Sol Invictus/Apollo then. In the meantime I have put together this visual tribute to the Invincible Sun  may he look favourably upon us.

"Sol Invictus" by bukue.deviantart.com

Friday, 6 December 2013

Io Saturnalia!

Saturnalia falls on 17 December (and can be celebrated up to the 23rd*) and I can feel the fever coming on. Almost instinctively, most Westerners know how to celebrate it - probably because many of its customs were incorporated into the celebration of Christmas. Traditionally it is a festival held in honour of Saturn, who is associated with agricultural bounteousness and a mythological golden age of plenty. More generally it is a time of merry making, disrupting established rules and hierarchies (eg, by reversing social roles - in my home we role swap on Saturnalia; I usually pretend to be the cat), game playing (dice was most popular in ancient times), parties, feasting, drinking, relaxation and gift giving.** I wanted to find some good Saturnalian images to help bring the mood on. Here follows some of my favourites:


"Roman Saturnalia" by Tim O'Brien

Saturday, 9 November 2013

Menstruation and Ritual Purity

"Circe" by J Waterhouse (1911)
Lately I have been thinking about the question of menstrual blood and ritual purity. Menstrual taboos are most notably associated with conservative Judaism and Islam, but they also occur in fellow Indo-European religions in the east, such as Hinduism, Zoroastrianism and the indigenous religion of the Kalash. Meanwhile in the west, if social media is anything to go by, a number of polytheists seeking to reconstruct the indigenous religions of Europe (including the Religio Romana) also advocate menstrual taboos the general idea is that menstruating women should not perform ritual offerings (or enter temples) to the Gods because they are ritually unclean while they are menstruating. In light of all of this, and because I like to think I am genuinely open minded, I considered the possibility that there might be something to this apparently very ancient and widespread taboo.

Saturday, 19 October 2013

Nine Problems with Christianity


Note: if you believe that Abraham, Moses, etc were prophets of the one true God I respectfully ask that you do not read the following post.

"Dante and Virgil in Hell" (1850) by W Bouguereau 
In my life I find that Christians are everywhere, especially within my extended family. Though I am not a big fan of belittling other belief systems, because the ways to the truth are many, I have had to really think about and be able to articulate why I don't accept their faith – because I am pretty sure I am not the only one who has had to fend off well-meaning evangelists, I thought I would share some of these reasons:

I. Fear (of hell) lies at the core of Christianity I watched my mother die a protracted death (cancer) and witnessed for myself the way her fear of hell (she was not a Christian, but had been raised in a very devout Christian home) needlessly poisoned her final months – I could never wish to be part of a religion that inspires such a morbid dread of the afterlife.

II. I cannot believe that God, as understood by Christians, is real If the Christian God is so powerful why do horrible things happen again and again and again? To my mind there are only two plausible answers to this question: either because he does not exist in the manner that Christians claim he exists (ie, he may exist but is not nearly as powerful as Christians say; this view is the one I tend to adopt) or he does exist as Christians claim but allows awful things to happen because he is cold and mean and is therefore not worthy of reverence. Cicero put the argument more eloquently:
'Either God wishes to remove evils and cannot, or he can do so and is unwilling, or he has neither the will nor the power, or he has both the will and the power. If he has the will but not the power he is a weakling, and this is not characteristic of God. If he has the power but not the will, he is grudging, and this is a trait equally foreign to God. If he has neither the will nor the power, he is both grudging and weak, and is therefore not divine. If he has both the will and the power (and this is the sole circumstance appropriate to God), what is the source of evils, or why does God not dispel them [Cicero, The Nature of the Gods, 3.65]?'

Saturday, 12 October 2013

Contemporary Visions of the Divine

I thought it might be cool to do a contemporary version of a previous post I did that has proved to be pretty popular (Imagining the Gods) - I was super impressed with some of the images I found, especially the ones (below) of Mercury, Faunus, Venus ... actually most of the them are pretty fabulous. I acknowledge that the majority of the images used in this post are sourced from deviantart.com - a very addictive website, which I spend far too much time on:p

Click on images to enlarge

Apollo, God of light and the sun, healing (or disease), music (especially stringed instruments), archery, poetry and prophecy
"Invictus" by ceruleanvii.deviantart.com

Bacchus (Dionysus), God of grapes, fruitfulness, vegetation, wine, ecstasy and madness
"Bacchus" by theloymachine.deviantart.com

Sunday, 22 September 2013

Padmasambhava – Buddhist Deity


Padmasambhava. Source: buddhism-edinburgh.blogspot.com
So lately I have been attending a meditation course in a centre which is of the Nyingmapa tradition (there are four schools of Tibetan Buddhism, Nyingmapa is the first and oldest of those schools) – a form of Vajrayana Buddhism said to have been introduced to Tibet by Padmasambhava and which includes teachings on Tantra and Dzogchen. Padmasambhava is a giant within this tradition. Adherents are encouraged to meditate on his image and to chant his mantra. To say he is revered is an understatement. Although his name is not new to me I have never really felt him coming into my life until now – so … who is he?

Who is Padmasambhava?
Padmasambhava is described as the “father of Tibetan Buddhism” (Sogyal Rinpoche, The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying at 43) for “Buddhism in its Tantric form was principally introduced by Padmasambhava” (Chogyal Namkhai Norbu, Dzogchen: The Self-Perfected State at 14), but he is regarded as being far more than just a historical figure. Essentially, he can be described as a principle deity of Vajrayana Buddhism who dwells in a “glorious pure realm, the palace of lotus light on the copper-coloured mountain” – many Vajrayana Buddhists pray to Padmasambhava to be reborn in this realm (Sogyal Rinpoche, The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying at 240-241). A Buddhist deity can be described as “a manifestation of enlightened wisdom” (Lama Lodo, Bardo Teachings: The Way of Death and Rebirth at 68). Sogyal Rinpoche underscores Padmasambhava’s role as a primary Buddhist deity when he writes:
“All the Buddhas, Bodhisattvas and enlightened beings are present at all moments to help us … Those who know Padmasambhava know the living truth of the promise he made over a thousand years ago: ‘I am never far from those with faith, or even those without it, though they do not see me. My children will always, always be protected by my compassion’ [Sogyal Rinpoche, The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying at 147].”

Sunday, 15 September 2013

Juno - Queen of the Matriarchs


"Juno" (2010) by roma1905.deviantart.com
Juno’s special concern is the protection of women.* In particular, she is the patron Goddess of marriage, pregnancy, childbirth and motherhood. Hence, she could be described as the spirit of fertility in women.** For most freeborn women in the ancient world marriage, pregnancy, childbirth and motherhood defined what it meant to be an adult and so we can say that Juno deifies the adulthood of girls,*** which is perhaps why in the Religio Romana the spirit of a woman is called “juno”, whereas for a man it is called “genius”.

While Venus is the patroness of sexual yearning, pleasure and its climax, it is Juno who is the patroness for what comes next. Venus is mirthful, but Juno is solemn (Tibullus) and austere (Propertius); she is a matron (Horace) and this role is crucial. As Rüpke states, “it is clear that there are important deities who were worshipped across Latium, and who represented core values of the community, and Juno is one. The cult of Juno Sospita in particular seems to have been connected with the defence and reproduction of the citizen body" (Rüpke at 37). Likewise, Juno Regina was prayed to by the married women of Rome on “bended knee” for the safety, victory and health of the Roman people and for goodwill to Roman houses and households (Beard et al at 142).

Sunday, 8 September 2013

Prayer to Mercury


Earlier this year as I was writing a post entitled Roman Gods, Indian Gods I came across a beautiful hymn (which is included at the bottom of that post) to the Vedic God Pushan, who, as pyschopomp and the God of journeys, roads, prosperity, good luck and cattle (which were equated with wealth in Vedic times, as they were in the earliest Roman times) is either the Vedic manifestation of Mercury or a God very similar to Mercury.* Over time I have adapted it as a prayer to the God whom I honour most (Mercury). It is as follows:

Prayer I
Great Mercurius or whatever name it is that you prefer,
Lord of the path, guide us on our way; go close before us.
Drive away that which would do us harm.
Protect us from deceit, wherever it be.
Wise Mercurius, wonder-worker,
We desire the help that you gave our people in times past.
Lord of prosperity, make wealth easy to acquire.
Make our paths easy to travel, lead us to happy destinations.
May you provide for us and invigorate us.
We praise mighty Mercurius and we seek your goodwill,
May you know the sincerity of our prayer by this incense that is lit,
May it find favour with you.
[based on Rig Veda, Book 1, Hymn XLII]

Sunday, 25 August 2013

Germanic Pagan Tattoos

Source: darksuntattoo.deviantart.com

Oftentimes it seems that Germanic Paganism and tattoos go well together. Scholars tell us that the Germanic tribes of the east (eg, first the Goths, then the Rus - both peoples said to have originated in the general region of modern day Sweden) were partial to tattoos.* We know from the mummified remains of Indo-Europeans buried in Siberia in the 5th century BCE that ancient tattoos could be beautifully decorative and detailed.** Thus it is conceivable that some ancient and medieval Germanic Pagans (from the east at least?) looked a bit like this fellow in the picture on the right ->


It seems that these days most Germanic Pagan tattoos are either of Odin, Thor or Mjölnir. In my searches I came across very few tattoos of Germanic Goddesses or of any other Germanic Gods. Fittingly, animals in a Celtic-Viking design seem to be popular (though perhaps not always explicitly Pagan - unless they are ravens in pairs or Sleipnir), as are runic inscriptions and Yggdrasil, the world tree. Here follows the best of what I was able to find after countless hours of sifting through online images of Germanic Pagan tattoos.

Sunday, 4 August 2013

Y-DNA Haplogroups of Europe


Child of the Indo-Europeans tribes? Actress Ivana Baquero is from Catalonia
(Spain) where haplogroup R1b is represented by over 80% of men
Last week, as I was writing my last post (About Me), I discovered what Y-DNA haplogroups are and I was fascinated, for they represent the most reliable analysis of the genetic make up of nations that science has offered to date. Being a child of Europe I was most interested to learn about the ethnic/genetic make up of people from this region (excluding post WW2 immigrants). As I did I was surprised, amused and somewhat discomfited to learn that there really is no such thing as ethnic purity and just about everyone is related to everyone else – and not just in Europe. I also realised that the pride I have felt regarding my Indo-European ancestors (prob. represented by haplogroups R1a and R1b) should probably be balanced with an acceptance that the Indo-Europeans encroached on lands traditionally belonging to the “native” inhabitants of Europe (represented by haplogroup I) – who did not die out, but interbred with their possible conquerors – and who are also almost certainly my ancestors. Then there is the real possibility that I have a genetic link to Asia via haplogroups N and Q which are both found in Sweden, but are more commonly associated with north Asia; not to mention the ancestors I almost certainly have belonging to various other haplogroups with diverse origins, such as J2, G2 and T (prob. orig. Middle East) and E1b1b (prob. orig. Africa) – which are found right across European populations.

Friday, 26 July 2013

About Me - Eclectic


"The Disguise" by Daneli. Source: theflickrite.com
I have been asked to share a little about myself – to be honest this is not something I am altogether comfortable with, for I am intensely private. I love the anonymity of the internet; it is like a virtual masked ball where one can reveal and conceal as much of oneself as one likes. Consider this post like a short walk down a darkened alley where I will expose a little more of myself than usual, only to clutch my mask and cloak and go running back to the main festivities and lose myself in the crowd.

Friday, 12 July 2013

Devotional Practice – Meditation


Source: tumblr.com/tagged/paganprayer
Sometimes when we feel a strong pull towards a particular deity we may be unsure as to how to connect with that God or Goddess – making suitable offerings is obviously the first thing we can and should do. If we want to do more, and we are inspired by devotional practices common within the most well established polytheistic religions of our own time (Hinduism and Buddhism), we might consider meditating on the deity for whom we feel a particular pull. We can do this by resting the mind lightly and mindfully on an object, image or place associated with the God or Goddess with whom we wish to connect.

When we invoke a deity by meditating on his or her image, such as a picture, or on an object, scene or place associated with a deity, it is said that we make a greater connection with that deity, which may in turn bring the qualities associated with that God or Goddess into our lives. We can meditate directly on an image of a deity or we can meditate on an object, or an image of an object, or a scene or place associated with the deity – for example, we might focus on a rose, for roses are sacred to Venus.

Saturday, 6 July 2013

Greco-Roman Pagan Tattoos


A little while ago I was at a pub and noticed an amazing tattoo of the Egypto-Roman Goddess Isis underneath the shirt of the man across from me – I was super impressed and we got talking … turned out he got the tattoo because he just thought it was a cool design; wasn’t a Pagan at all. Although, strangely, he did claim to have been a gigolo when he was younger. I have no idea if this was true but I did later hear a story (apparently true) that he fell in love with a woman who lived overseas and he packed a suitcase full of lube, condoms and Viagra when he went to visit her – an old trick of the trade perhaps?

That story is a diversion, but it was his tattoo that got me thinking about Pagan tattoos and how cool they can (potentially) be. There are some awesome tattoos dealing with the Greco-Roman pantheon out there – here are some of the best that I was able to find online (note that some of them were perhaps not originally intended to pertain to a particular deity but I think are evocative of certain Gods nonetheless). 


Apollo / Sol / Helios / Apollon / Apolo
Source: tattoopaulski.com
Source: pics5.this-pic.com

Sunday, 23 June 2013

Tacitus on Indigenous Germanic Religion


Statue of the prophetess Veleda by Bucker (20th century) 

Source: nationalheldinnen.de
Tactius’ Germania is perhaps one of the most important texts we have concerning the religious practices (inter alia) of the Germanic tribes in the 1st century CE. While we should read Tacitus with caution, because he was not Germanic himself and because we cannot be certain that he ever travelled to the Germanic lands (in which case he would have assembled the work based on the descriptions of others including, perhaps, traders, Roman soldiers who had fought in those lands, or manned German border outposts, and possibly Germanic mercenaries and those serving in the auxilia who had moved to Roman territory), what is exciting about his account is that he was not a Christian, unlike many later writers who were to record aspects of indigenous Germanic religion. His bias was more along the lines of occasionally seeming to idealise the Germanic peoples in such a way as to suggest the comparative decadence of contemporary (Pagan) Romans. He emphasised that these Germanic tribes were almost universally composed of people who were warlike, brave, loyal and hardened by their climate – in short they were formidable enemies for whom Tacitus seems to feel admiration on the one hand and a kind of disgust or horror (at their “barbarism”, eg, because they practiced human sacrifice and had a supposed tendency towards drunkenness and violence) on the other.

Friday, 14 June 2013

Vulcan – Fire God


"Red hot fire blowers" by dislexicpalindrome (2011)
If you want to understand the Roman attitude to deified fire, understanding Roman ideas about the nature of Vulcan (or Vulcanus, as the Romans knew him) is essential. Vulcan is the fertile, creative and yet potentially ugly and destructive side of fire. On the one hand he is propitiated – for his scorching fires, which threaten to burn and destroy forests, homes and harvests, are feared. On the other hand, he is honoured as a master metalworker who creates the finest armour, weapons and any other object forged in fire. Thus Vulcan is the God of fire and of metalworking, and one of the major Gods in the Roman pantheon.

The antiquity of Vulcan’s cult in Rome
Not only was Vulcan one of the Dii Consentes (one of the 12 major Gods of ancient Rome), he was also one of only 15 Gods to have a State appointed priest (flamen) and he is known to have had a shrine in the Roman Forum since at least the 6th century BCE – the Volcanal, which appears to have consisted of:
“an altar … next to it a column … which probably held a statue … [a] fragment of a Greek (Athenian) pot, 570-560 B.C., is the most ancient of the objects to be found associated with the Volcanal. It depicts the Greek god Hephaestus – who (as has always been known) was eventually ‘identified’ with the Roman Vulcan, as the god of fire and metalworking – returning to Olympus, riding on a donkey. The presence of this fragment at the site suggests that the identification of the Roman with the Greek god, far from being late or literary, was made already in the sixth century B.C. [Beard et al, Religions of Rome: Volume 2: A Sourcebook at 21-22].”

Friday, 24 May 2013

Vesta – Fire Goddess


Vesta by coolcurry.deviantart.com
Of all the Goddesses, Vesta is most frequently invoked during prayers at my household shrine; she is inevitably a highly important Goddess in the context of (Roman oriented) domestic worship. Likewise she was a vitally important Goddess in the State religion of ancient Rome. Despite her importance, scholars have relatively little to say of her, though they have a great deal to say of her priestesses. I will not look too much at the intriguing Vestal Virgins as there is already a wealth of information on them scattered across the internet and in books.* I want to look directly to Vesta herself – she seems to me a most comforting and benevolent Goddess. Scholars tend to describe her as a Goddess of the sacred hearth fire, guardian of the home, and as a virgin Goddess who is inviolable and pure.** Perhaps the best contemporary description I have come across comes from Shelton, who writes:
“Vesta was the deity of the hearth fire. Fire for cooking and heating was a necessity of life, and the Romans were therefore conscientious in their worship of Vesta. In private homes of early Rome, where the hearth was a central element, all family members [which included slaves] gathered … for a sacrifice to Vesta [the sacrificial items were usually salt and flour]. In a sense, then, every private home was a temple of Vesta [J Shelton, As the Romans Did at 385].”
In another edifying description of Vesta, Beard et al write:
“The significance of the flame … in at least one of its aspects, lie in its link with the foundation, generation and continuation of the race. The goddess Vesta herself encapsulated all the elements; she was the flame itself, she was the virgin, she was Vesta the Mother [M Beard et al, Religions of Rome: Volume 1: A History at 53].”

Friday, 3 May 2013

Roman Gods, Indian Gods


The God Indra (Jupiter) armed with a vajra (thunderbolt),
as depicted on a popular Indian comic. From hoopos.com
I recently spent time trying to discover how the interpretatio Romana could be applied to the Indian pantheon. I discovered that it is not easily applied and that Indian polytheism is almost unbelievably complex. The first thing to know is that Hinduism is the sum total of numerous polytheistic belief systems emanating from the huge geographic region that is south Asia and linked by “various common elements such as Vedic tradition, the caste system, religious and moral law, epics and myths, and reverence for spiritual teachers” (Dallapiccola, Hindu: Visions of the Sacred). The second thing to know is that polytheism as experienced and understood by Hindus today is not the same as south Asian polytheism in ancient times. These days it appears that the majority of Hindus believe that most, if not all, Gods and Goddesses are manifestations of other more major Gods and many Hindus believe all deities are aspects of Brahman (or Shiva or Vishnu) – the ultimate reality and deity, which is a concept not dissimilar to Neoplatonic ideas about “the One”. The major Gods of Hinduism today are Brahma, the creator; Vishnu, the preserver and Shiva/Siva, the destroyer, as well as Devi/Shakti, the great Goddess – these Gods do not really have direct parallels in the Roman (or Greek) pantheon, which is not to say that the Indian equivalent to Roman Gods cannot be discovered but it makes the process difficult and uncertain. The Vedic pantheon of ancient India certainly seems more recognisable to one who is familiar with Roman Gods (and Vedic Brahmin priests appear to have been even more obsessed with the correct practice of ritual than the patrician priests of ancient Rome) but many Vedic Gods are no longer widely revered or they have been subsumed into other, more accessible, deities such as Vishnu or Shiva (Vedic Gods may be considered less accessible because traditionally only Brahmin priests can perform sacrifices to Vedic Gods).

Friday, 19 April 2013

Household Shrine and Ritual


Lararium fresco from a tavern in Pompeii - on either side of the Lares is
Mercury on the left and Bacchus on the right. Sacred snakes appear below.
Over three and a half years after I first set up my household shrine a few things have changed – one of the biggest changes is that after years of wariness of statues I now have a carefully chosen statue of Mercury on my shrine, for he is a God I particularly revere. Initially I held the notion that the household shrine, or lararium, should, to be consistent with the religious practices of ancient Romans, only honour household deities, but I have since come to realise that ancient Romans did not necessarily hold that view. Mary Beard writes:
"… one of the most distinctive and easily recognisable features of Pompeian houses is shrines that we now call by the Latin word lararium, shrine of the Lares or household Gods … some of these are quite elaborate affairs … But many others are much simpler … In many cases statuettes of Gods and Goddesses stood on the ledge or shelf of the lararium. Sometimes these depict the Lares themselves, but a much wider range of deities has been found … After the Lares, Mercury is the most popular divine subject, closely followed by Egyptian Gods … with Venus, Minerva, Jupiter and Hercules, in that order, coming next [M Beard, Pompeii: The Life of a Roman Town at 295-298]."
Some hold that it is better to have a separate shrine to the household Gods (whom I invoke as “spirits of the household” during the shrine ritual) as distinct from any other Gods one wishes to especially honour, but I live in a small home and it is not practical to have separate shrines. I am very happy with my modest multi-deity shrine.

Sunday, 7 April 2013

Interpreting the Lares


What the scholars say
In many ways the heart of the Roman way to the Gods can be said to lay with the household shrine and the deities worshipped thereon. The Lares familiares/Lares domestici (Lares of the household/familia – which includes family members, slaves, servants and perhaps animals) are prominent among these but I have struggled to understand their nature – are they guardians of place (where the household resides) or, as some have suggested, ancestor guardians of the family? Respected scholars M Beard et al describe them as follows: 
Bronze statuette of Lar holding a rhyton and a patera,
 1st century CE (Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, UK)
Lares, protecting spirits of place, were worshipped in various contexts: in the house, at the crossroads, in the city (as guardians of the state). The Lares 'familiares' (gods of the house and its members) are the best known of these - receiving offerings, sacrifices and prayers within the household, and commonly appealed to as the protectors of its safety and prosperity. But no mythological stories attached to them; nor were they defined as individual personalities [Beard, North and Price, Religions of Rome: Volume 2 at 2.2a].
Valerie Warrior writes:
“Each Roman home has its own protective deities, the Lar (plural Lares), protecting the household or family; the Penates, protecting the stores-cupboard or pantry (penus) in the inner part of the house; the Genius or guardian spirit of individual members of the household, especially the paterfamilias; and Vesta, goddess of the hearth. The shrine to the Lar, generally known as the lararium, was sometimes in the atrium, the more public part of the house near the entrance, but more commonly in the kitchen area. Just as the home had its tutelary deities, so too did the entire property [Warrior, Roman Religion at 28-29] …”

Friday, 8 March 2013

The Golden Ass and the Catamite


Patera depicting Cybele and Attis, 4th century CE, source: ancientrome.ru
As the traditional time to mourn and then celebrate the death and resurrection of Cybele's beloved Attis (a festival since subsumed by Easter) draws near there is perhaps no better time to look at the role of the galli in ancient Rome. The galli were priests of the great Goddess Cybele, also called the Magna Mater. In imitation of her lover, Attis, who was said to have castrated himself after being driven into a frenzy by a jealous Cybele, the galli castrated themselves during the festival of Attis. Thereafter these “mad eunuch priests” (to quote Lucretius) dressed in women’s clothing, which were typically brightly coloured, wore earrings and heavy make up, and became well known for their wild rites in which they ritualistically flogged and mutilated themselves whilst in an ecstatic frenzy brought on by boisterous music and dancing. They were also well known fortune tellers and were perhaps the only priests permitted to beg during the Roman era.

Friday, 1 March 2013

Greco-Roman Pagan Lego

There are no shortage of Lego set ups engaging with Greco-Roman themes, however they tend to be scattered across cyberspace. Here follows my attempt to bring the best of them together in a Pagan setting. I humbly acknowledge that I became aware of many of these set ups through godbricks.blogspot.com, which is a blog dedicated to Lego set ups with a religious motif.

"Legionaries Ready!" by ACPin. The God of the temple is not indicated (presumably a military God would be appropriate, such as Mars or Bellona) but it is still a great set up. The Sphinxes at the front of the temple are a nice touch.
See more at pinlac.com/LegoRomanTempleDeparture

In another Lego tribute to the God of war (in this case it is definitely Mars), this is "Roman Temple" by Casper.
See more at www.flickr.com/photos

Even great soldiers may be felled by Cupid's arrows. This beautiful set up is called "Amor's Arrow" by Jojo.
See more at www.flickr.com/photos/chutspe

"Templum Vestae" by Gema. Vesta is the Roman Goddess of protecting hearth fire and ritual fire. Within her famous temple/shrine at Rome a continuous fire burnt. Extinguishment of the fire was associated with ill fortune. Indeed, within 20 years of Vesta's protecting flame being permanently put out, during Emperor Theodosius' persecution of Paganism in the 390s, the Visigoths sacked Rome and the fall of the western Roman empire was essentially complete.
See more at www.flickr.com/photos/brickilla

"Palladium in ignis" by lokosuperfluoLEGOman. I love this one - it depicts Pontifex Maximus (high priest of Rome), Lucius Caecilius Metellus, rescuing the sacred Palladium (a wooden statue of Minerva/Pallas Athena said to have been brought to Rome by mythological founding father of Rome, Aeneas) from a fire in the temple of Vesta in 241 BCE. 
See more at www.flickr.com/photos/lokosuperfluolegoman

Friday, 22 February 2013

After Reading Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations


Fragment of a bronze head of Marcus Aurelius,
2nd century CE
I recently read Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations – a book I had long been curious about. The Meditations are essentially the spiritual diary of a Roman emperor and that in itself is interesting, better still, every now and again he writes with great wisdom, though reading the Meditations from cover to cover is not always very engaging. However, despite my respect for the Meditations, I will admit that the view expressed therein that the world is somehow fundamentally ordered and that the universe is ruled by some kind of divine and ultimately benevolent plan (see, eg, Books 8.5, and12.5) strikes me as deeply flawed. Try telling all the children who are periodically raped by their fathers in their own bedrooms that the universe is ruled by principals of justice and benevolent order. And how easy to live “according to nature” – this is another recurrent theme throughout the Meditations – when your nature is to be the emperor of Rome! When it comes to the power of (a pantheist or ultimate) God, as identified with the Stoic concept of the benevolent and ordered universe, I share the following concerns as expressed by Cicero:
“Either God wishes to remove evils and cannot, or he can do so and is unwilling, or he has neither the will nor the power, or he has both the will and the power. If he has the will but not the power he is a weakling, and this is not characteristic of God. If he has the power but not the will, he is grudging, and this is a trait equally foreign to God. If he has neither the will nor the power, he is both grudging and weak, and is therefore not divine. If he has both the will and the power (and this is the sole circumstance appropriate to God), what is the source of evils, or why does God not dispel them [Cicero, The Nature of the Gods, 3.65]?”

Friday, 8 February 2013

3D Paganism – Philosophy Matters

"The Temptation of Saint Anthony" by van Craesbeeck (1650)
It all started when I had an argument with my partner. Something about it (perhaps being accused of living in an escapist's dream-world) dragged me into an intensely vicious depression. Like the Romans who overturned their altars and attacked the Lares when their beloved Germanicus died, I turned my back on the household Gods, who I felt had failed to protect me and my familia, despite years of almost daily offerings at my household shrine. I did not resort to violence, but I let my shrine fall into dusty disuse.

Sunday, 27 January 2013

Venus – Goddess of Love and Life


"Cupid Undoing Venus' Belt by Reynolds (c. 1788)
Few among the red-blooded (Pagan) women of today can resist the allure of Venus. She is among the most celebrated of all the Goddesses, evidenced by the incredible number of artworks that have been made in her honour. Her blessing is that worth courting, for she is the divine embodiment of sexual love and fertility. One of the things that makes her so appealing is that she seems to celebrate female sexuality, but this great Goddess is not just about sex, she is also about love, and about divine, life-affirming protection. Here follows a look at some ancient sources dealing with Venus, so to help us understand her multi-faceted nature a little better.
Venus and ladies of the night
As a Goddess associated so closely with sex it is no surprise that ancient Romans associated her with sex work. In Plautus’ Poenulus one character says: 
“It's the Aphrodisia [a Greek festival in honour of Venus’ Hellenic counterpart Aphrodite – the play is set in Greece] … today, at the temple of Venus, there's a fair for the courtesans; there the dealers meet”. 
Similarly, Ovid describes a festival in honour of Venus (and Jupiter) celebrated by Roman prostitutes (as well as all Roman women). It was the Vinalia – a wine making festival – which took place on 23 April:
“Street girls, celebrate the divinity of Venus; Venus boosts the profits of working girls. Request beauty and public favour with your incense, request seductive charm and playful words. Give your mistress pleasing mint and her own myrtle and wicker baskets covered in roses. Now you should pack the temple near the Porta Collina … [Ovid, Fasti, Book IV, 865-872]”
And then there is Horace’s Ode to Venus:
O Venus, the queen of Cnidus* and Paphos [mythical birthplace of Aphrodite], spurn your beloved Cyprus, and summoned by copious incense, come to the lovely shrine of my Glycera [a Greek word denoting a sophisticated and educated courtesan].  
And let that passionate boy of yours, Cupid, and the Graces with loosened zones, and the Nymphs, and Youth, less lovely without you, hasten here, and Mercury too.

Sunday, 13 January 2013

The Nature of Mercury


Bronze pendant of Mercury, circa 100-300 CE (2.5cm x 1.9cm)
Something I have noticed whenever I find a book about pre-Christian religions of Europe is that there is very little written up about the nature of each of the Gods themselves. This is undoubtedly because scholars are more interested in what ancient religion can tell us about ancient societies, rather than to know or understand the Gods themselves. However, like many Pagans I seek to understand both the Gods and the people who believed in them and, like many Pagans, there are certain Deities for whom I feel a strong pull towards – in my case Mercury is prominent among these Gods – and so I have read up as much as I can about this most wonderful of Gods and here share my knowledge as best as I can.

The first thing to do when looking to the nature of Mercury (or Mercurius, as the Romans knew him) is to look to the ancient sources. Fortunately we have a fairly good idea of how the Romans perceived him, as there are a number of ancient descriptions relating to him. For example, he is playfully written in as a character in Amphitryo by Plautus. He says:
“… you wish me … to endow you with profit in all the purchasing and purveying of your wares, and to assist you in all your affairs; and … you wish me to speed a happy outcome for you all in your matters of business both at home and in foreign lands and to increase for evermore with fine and glorious profit those endeavours which you have begun and those which you are about to begin; and … you wish me to endow you and yours, every one, with glad tidings, bringing before you and proclaiming only those things which may contribute to your common weal (for verily you have long known that it is an honour granted and bestowed upon me by the other gods that I should hold sway over messages and profit) … [cited in Beard et al, Religions of Rome: Volume 2: A Sourcebook at 29]”